SAN FRANCISCO — Consumer advocates face an uphill battle at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and other regulatory agencies, according to Birny Birnbaum.
Birnbaum, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice, Austin, Texas, a longtime insurance industry gadfly, earlier had announced that he would not be renewing his application to continue as an NAIC-funded consumer representative.
Insurers have virtually unlimited financial resources to convey their messages to regulators, Birnbaum said here at the NAIC’s winter meeting.
“Insurers spend tens of millions of policyholder-supplied funds to lobby for insurer interests, Birnbaum said. “In contrast, consumer interests have few such resources.”
The problem is a structural problem with regulatory agencies in general and is not the fault of insurance regulators, Birnbaum said.
But “the imbalance is on display at the NAIC, where over a thousand industry representatives – many of whom are former insurance regulators – are paid to present and press the industry viewpoint during and between NAIC meetings,” Birnbaum said.
Birnbaum said there are only a handful of consumer representatives, most of whom are volunteers. “The current consumer participation budget at the NAIC is $120,000 – less than the salary of one industry lobbyist,” Birnbaum said.
Unlike the insurer lobbyists, the consumer advocates have other jobs, and they do not make their money by volunteering time as consumer representatives.